Anish Kapoor is a London-based sculptor with an Indian Jewish background, being born in Mumbai in 1954, but living in the U.K. since the early 1970’s, when he arrived to study Arts. He first started to exhibit as part of the New British Sculpture art scene, then he went on to win the prestigious Turner Prize, and at the moment he is one of the most prominent figures of contemporary sculpture.
His works are characterized by often massive, but always simple and elegant, also usually monochromatic shapes. Almost all materials that can be associated with sculpting have passed through his skilled hands, as he created works out of: chalk, raw pigment, polystyrene, fiberglass, stone, aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, felt, acrylic, wax… etc. More often than not the artist’s intention is to enable expression via his works, rather than to express a specific message of his own, this can be seen most clearly in his installations and in his reflective sculptures where the participation of the viewers is quintessential to the work. Even though large scale is not always in the artworks’ best interest, often shifting the accent from the idea to the pure craftsmanship, Kapoor’s works take size and work it to their advantage. Pervaded by elements of minimalism, they fill the viewer with a sense of awe that can only be experienced in front of a well-presented, monumental piece of art.

The exhibition in focus here took place at the Serpentine Gallery of the Kensington Gardens, in London. The show that was on view between September 28th of 2010 and March 13th 2011 contains 4 pieces by the artist, all of them made of highly polished stainless steel, that have never been previously shown together. This show was curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, one of the world’s top curators at the moment, and who has been working at the Serpentine Gallery for over 10 years, and it is unique in the way that it is the first contemporary sculpture project to take place in the Kensington Gardens in the last 25 years.

Entitled Turning the World Upside Down, the show does just that, both symbolically and literally. Watching the surfaces of Kapoor’s pieces you experience the world around you (and even your own figure) in unexpected ways. They record the nature’s movements, the changes in the weather, the foliage – take note of the period in which the exhibition takes place, one of the most interesting and rewarding periods from this point of view. When faced with his works you are forced to see things from a different perspective, and thus notice details you would’ve passed over if it wasn’t for them. The idea behind this show is for the works of art to be directly experienced by the viewers. Reflecting and distorting, they may be destabilizing at first, showing a new yet familiar sight.
The pieces, placed around the park are not integrated in the scenery; instead, they stand out, like curious, alien objects, arresting the gaze. Still, this does not distract the attention from the park itself, but rather the opposite, since this is precisely what they reflect. So, after all, are you admiring the artwork itself, the grand scenery, or your own funny self?

Probably the most popular work displayed is the C-Curve, which, as the title pretty much says, is a long curved band of stainless steel that on it’s outer (convex) side shows the reflected reality of the park grounds, but it’s not just an oversized mirror you are looking at – the curvature of the band makes the experience slightly stranger, due to the sensation that you might just catch a glimpse of what lies hidden just around the corner…
On the concave side, the entire scenery is reflected upside-down; it is in regular scale in the very center and enlarged towards the edges. This view brings on a whole new perspective over the arrangement of the park, the often overlooked elaborated design of the Kensington Gardens (conceived in the 18th century by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman), the rows of trees, like something out of a Hobbema painting.
Certainly the best-placed sculpture in the exhibition is the Sky Mirror – Red, the smaller of the two present in the show, it has a diameter of aproximately 280cm, and it consists of a concave disc, (resembling a satellite dish) that stands close to the shore of the Round Pond, seeming to float above the water, amongst the swans. Its tint – pinkish red, with violet gleams like the hues of a Rothko piece makes it look like a setting sun, and the angle at which it is placed makes it reflect not the swans or the visitors, but only the skies above… a permanent sunset. Its positioning with Kensington Palace as a backdrop creates what I believe is an iconic image.

The second Sky Mirror, an enormous sculpture with a diameter of 10.6 meters that originally stood in the middle of the Rockefeller Center in New York, is in this case placed farther away from the public, more precisely across the Longwater. It brings the unseen into full view, it brings down the sky, making us acutely aware of it’s constant movement, constant change, especially in a city such as London, where the weather is well known for its moody swings. Pointing out the easily recognizable, but not quite familiar, the work draws you in and keeps you focused, never offering a dull moment.
The last of the works, and also the one I, myself found the least appealing is Non Object (The Spire), a 3 meter piece, shaped like a non-Euclidean cone, with its pointy top shooting up, a tad too alien for it’s ambient, but still a clever find, as it reflects itself onto it’s own surface, making for an interesting distortion of the shape itself and also of the surrounding environment.

One of the downsides of the exhibition is that this last work and also the C-Curve have been surrounded by rope in order to protect them, thus diminishing the actual experience of the viewers, who cannot properly interact with these works anymore. It can be argued here of course that a good public sculpture or installation should be able to sustain itself and to stand apart in its environment… But other than that, I believe the show is a success, given the excellent location, the always amazing works of Kapoor and especially the chemistry that was created between these two elements. The mix of all these provides a unique way of experiencing contemporary art. This highly modernist abstract art transforms the well kept oasis that is the Kensington Gardens, but without ever giving the sense that it attempts to invade it.

As a whole, Anish Kapoor turns a walk in the park into a whimsical trip, like something out of Alice in Wonderland or a Hall of Mirrors. He is an illusionist that engages and amuses the viewer, but on a deeper level he is also a revealer: his sleek, sophisticated sculptures teach us to look at the world anew.

Text and photos by Voica Puscasiu

I teach in an art university. I therefore have frequent conversations with art students about art, contemporary art practices, art in Romania, the possible future of art and artists and so on. I need, as probably does any teacher in the field of art and / or humanities, examples of role models which to present to my students. I use the example of such personalities to motivate them, to provide them insights into the profession, to make them realize that outstanding achievements, of one sort or another, are within grasp, even if or when circumstances might appear adverse. I definitely have reasons to thank Berszan Zsolt for offering me a compelling model to refer to.
He graduated art school and returned to his home town of Miercurea Ciuc only to find himself trapped into the somewhat typical small town’s cultural ataraxia and lack of appeal and understanding for contemporary forms of visual art (maybe even for art in general). Quite soon he understood that he had to fight really hard in order to avoid the perspective of becoming just another talented and vivid young artist turned into a dull and self-sufficient, locally acknowledged producer of kitsch or of tamed, dusty and irrelevant art. Berszan’s response to that perspective was to get associated with other artists in order to form a group which got both culturally and socially involved in the life of the community and visible outside it.

Thus, he started editing (in collaboration with a very few colleagues) an art magazine. It all began with four sheets of black and white printed paper, yet managed to become, in several years, a real effective means of recording contemporary art events in Romania. The magazine’s progress was made possible by the generous, yet far from effortlessly gained support of private businesses in the region. He got involved into the project of building up an exhibition space for contemporary art in the centre of town, a space which hosted, during its unfortunately short existence, the works of some of the most remarkable (young) Romanian artists at the time. He travelled around the country to distribute the free magazine at various art institutions: soon enough, everybody knew Zsolt; everyone became aware of the existence of “the boy(s) from Miercurea Ciuc”.

Relentlessly, Berszan also travelled abroad, to Hungary, to Vienna, to Venice, in an effort to keep in touch with what’s going on in international art, to establish professional contacts with significant institutions who were dealing with contemporary art, to document important events and to show that documentation to anyone back at home which might have been interested. As far as his art was concerned, it got compelling enough to persuade one of Romania’s top curators, Liviana Dan, to work with him for a solo show in Sibiu in 2008, at the Gallery for contemporary art of the Brukenthal National Museum. Now, he exhibits his strange and elegant sculptures and installations at MODEM Debrecen, clearly one of the most prestigious and coherent institutions focused on modern and contemporary art that exist in Hungary today.
“Genesis project” is the largest and most ambitious solo show that Berszan Zsolt realized so far. The generous space at MODEM certainly helped him in this endeavour, being fully adequate to host rather large scale works such as the artist’s recent sculptures and installations. The works boldly tackle ambitious topics such as the origin of life, the cycle of life bursting and decay, the elemental structure of the living. His art displayed in the Debrecen show artistically dissects that structure, trying to metaphorically reveal the basic components, the primary drives and mechanisms of life. It also aims at circumscribing, in a visually powerful manner, a certain western philosophical and scientific vision of it, namely the modern, analytical, microscopic and process – based understanding of the realm of the living.
The central motif of “Genesis project” is the worm, the maggot. In various forms, more or less explicit visual metamorphoses of the worm stand as metaphors of the cycle of life. The worm is, for Berszan, its basic agent: the maggot’s action marks the end of a life form, the termination of a complex, evolved organism. But, at the same time, the devouring action of the worm is what plants the seeds of the rejuvenation of life. The worm sends life back to its basis, forces it to literally start again. In this light, it becomes obvious that a dialectic view pervades the exhibition at MODEM. As its curator, Gerda Széplaky, puts it, “Genesis project” is first and foremost about „the way death leads to new life. In the micro-world of maggots (that one can visit thanks to art, leaving our human macrocosm behind) one may wonder at the powers of genesis residing within demise, at the breathtaking circle of the reproduction of life.”
The stuff Berszan uses to build up his works is mainly base industrial materials. As he’s been doing for a few years now, he creatively deploys concrete, aluminium, but mostly polyurethane foam and silicone in order to shape a quite personal array of sculptural volumes. They are painted black and the resulting monochrome look –altered only by the silvery aluminium elements that form the compositional structure of some of the works in “Genesis project”– is quite mesmerising. There are, in a very appealing manner, both minimalist and visually rich, they possess a strong tactile dimension as well as an elegantly unctuous appearance. The difficulties thus amount for Berszan’s art: the use of black monochrome language has a rather long and certainly revered history in modernist and contemporary art. Take this into account, and then remember the sheer seriousness of the topics dominating the show: you’ll get a pretty good image of the breadth and the honesty of his artistic ambition, which I believe is one of Berszan Zsolt’s most valuable assets. One of the things “Genesis project” shows is that, fortunately, his recent sculptures, installations and environments have the potential to live up to this ambition.
The display of the exhibition involves three separate, yet communicating spaces. By far the most spectacular is the small room at the end of the exhibition’s itinerary, which was entirely transformed into an environment: an overall, shining black structure of polyurethane foam and silicone is enveloping the viewer entering it. It offers the opportunity of a symbolic, yet acutely tactile journey into the warm, fragile “worm’s belly”, it provides the chance of a delightfully immersive experience for the exploring viewer. Yet, it is still the central and most generous room that hosts some of Berszan’s most compelling works he ever produced, the silicone worm alluding shapes horizontally displayed in rectangular, low profile aluminium frames and covered by a thin layer of water. When the display was being realized, the chemical components present in the water from the city of Debrecen unexpectedly interacted with the pigments the artist had used, changing the chromatic appearance of the sculptural shapes. Berszan has redone all the affected works, except for one, which was left as a reminder of this fortuitous semantic enrichment of the sculptures.
Perhaps the liveliest impression left by the art he produced during the last several years, impression which is strongly reinforced by the solo show at MODEM Debrecen, is that of growth, of development. It is truly remarkable how he was able to conceptually refine his artistic production, how his use of materials became increasingly meaningful and more visually poignant, how his understanding of the means and the context of contemporary art has become more and more mature. Berszan Zsolt has evolved in a very steady, personally adequate rhythm, from producing an art that was strong and charming, yet probably excessively subordinated to a neo – expressionistic paradigm, to proposing a more personal, more appealing and considerably more challenging artistic production. He convincingly evolved from being an artist in a group and a cultural promoter to being first and foremost an artist to be reckoned with on his own.